Robot dinosaur gets giant reinforcements in museum's hi-tech hunt for a million visitors

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The Independent Online

When the Natural History Museum in London introduced the world's most advanced robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex in February this year, 13,000 visitors a day queued for up to 90 minutes to see it.

Now the museum is hoping to capitalise on that success with the introduction of three new beasts. From today visitors to the museum's Predators exhibition will be greeted by three new animatronic models – a 5-metre great white shark, a 3-metre chameleon and a Sydney funnel-web spider.

The museum has invested £500,000 in the exhibition, most of which has been spent on the three animals, with the aim of attracting one million visitors over its 10-month stay.

To interest children both the spider and the chameleon are fitted with interactive elements which allow visitors to control their movements. In front of the spider lies a series of steel cables which replicate its web. If these are touched a signal is sent to the spider which then rears up ready to strike. Visitors can also operate the eyes and tongue of the giant chameleon. Each of its independently moving eyes is fitted with a miniature television camera and the view is projected on two monitors.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said at a preview yesterday: "It's really encouraging to see that you don't have to dumb down to get children interested. It's not all about cartoons, this will really engage their interests."

Each animal was hand made by the Kokoro Company in Tokyo, which has vastly improved the speed and smoothness of their movements. Beneath each model's silicon skin lies sculptured foam, glued to an aluminium and steel skeleton which moves in a similar way to the living animal. Everything is controlled by a small computer which acts as the creature's brain with a memory card storing its sequence of movements.

Children at the exhibition can also try on a replica ear of a bat-eared fox to discover how its keen sense of hearing enables it to seek out prey. A giant lion's skull will also be displayed, along with illustrations showing how predators such as spiders and snakes use poison to disarm their prey.

Paul Bowers, the exhibition researcher, said: "It will get children searching for facts, questioning and thinking about things and it's all been done with the most advanced technology available."

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